Judge Munson Denies Request of Garment Workers

January 29, 2010

As expected, Judge Alex Munson of the U.S. District Court of the NMI denied the motion filed yesterday by a group of former garment workers in an attempt to block the distribution of $625,000 in checks to charities.

Over the last year the court had ordered the Garment Workers Trust Fund to spend down the remaining funds. Attorney Tim Bellas called for former workers to file applications for funds. However, most were rejected because "the trustees did not believe that assistance for general and daily living expenses met the criteria of the type of hardship for which the applications were originally solicited." These applications were denied even though many of those that applied were owed money by their former garment manufacturer employers.

In December 2009, the fund called for charities to apply for the remaining fund money of $650,000. Most former garment workers who are struggling to survive disagreed with this decision, but unfortunately they took no stand until yesterday.

The motion filed by some former garment workers (which is not online) called for a temporary restraining order and notice for preliminary injunction to prevent Attorney Timothy Bellas from distributing the remaining funds from the Garment Workers Trust Fund. Checks had already already been given out to the court-ordered recipients/charities by the time the motion was filed.

Although the closing of the fund had been made very public over the last year and there had been many calls for former garment workers to apply for funds, many of the former workers stated that their applications were denied. Most objected to the money being given to charities. Realistically, the group was far too late to take any court action.

Bellas filed a Report with the Court to confirm the distribution of the funds to the charities. Judge Munson stated in his Order:
As an initial matter, plaintiffs' counsel has been available to the filers of these motions for years and yet they apparently never sought assistance from counsel.

Next, this very high profile lawsuit was settled several years ago with the payment of $20 million to a settlement fund by the defendants. That sum was to be distributed to garment factory workers who had allegedly been underpaid or had otherwise incurred damages at the hands of defendants. The task of determining what information should be received from claimants to the fund to show their entitlement to a payment and how their eligibility would be determined was given to the Garment Oversight Board, established and overseen by the court. The entire process was closely monitored by this court and all the proceedings and reports submitted by the Garment Oversight Board are and always have been matters of public record. Additionally, all facets of this lawsuit, since its inception and continuing to date, have been reported assiduously in the local media.

When the board of the Trust Fund concluded that it had exhausted all efforts to reach all of the workers who might be entitled to a payment and that it still had approximately $675,000 remaining of the settlement fund, the board and the court decided to utilize a cy pres trust to distribute the remaining settlement money to charitable or non-profit organizations, in particular those that had been instrumental in assisting garment factory workers over the years. To that end, notices were issued to the public, seeking applicants.

After meetings between the board and the court, a list of recipients was finalized and notice was given that a distribution to these entities would be made yesterday, January 28, 20 1 0, at 2:00 p.m. These motions, as noted above, were not filed until 2:47 p.m., after the distributions had begun. More to the point is that the parties who filed the motions have known for years of the process being employed by the court to determine eligibility for payments from the settlement fund and for at least several months of the court's intention to distribute the remaining funds to charitable and non-profit groups. There simply is no excuse for a last-minute filing that essentially asks the court to re-open the entire eligibility process and start all over again.

The court and the board have been scrupulous in the exercise of their duties regarding distribution of the settlement monies. All actions have been well publicized in the local media and no part of the Court's file has ever not been made available to the public. There is simply no acceptable reason for the filers' last-minute effort to have the court begin the process anew, particularly when most of the cy pres money had been distributed prior to the filing of these two motions. Litigation has to end at some point and that point has been reached here, after years of court-monitoring.
While I understand this ruling, I agree with the former workers that the money should have been given directly to them rather than distributed to charities. However, the time for them to present their case to the judge would have been months ago.

For whatever reason the administrators rejected the former garment workers' applications for funds they could have at least distributed the remaining funds to charities that directly serve these workers.

The money was distributed to the following charities: American Red Cross - $100,000; Center for Living Independently in the CNMI - $30,000; Karidat -$125,000; Micronesian Legal Services Corporation -$85,000; Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Services - $25,000; Northern Marianas Trade Institute - $25,000; Northern Marianas Council for the Humanities - $20,000; Northern Marinas Judiciary Historical Society -$25,000; Pet Assistance and Welfare Services - $50,000; Saipan Southern High School - $15,000; Saipan Swim Club -$15,000; St. Paul's Episcopal Church -$60,000; The Family Wellness Organization - $25,000; Whispering Palms School - $20,000.

While these are all worthy charities, some are so unrelated to guest workers needs the decision appears to ignore the original intent of the lawsuit.


Saipan Writer said...

Hi, Wendy.

I agree with almost every thing you say in this blog post.

I had an interesting chat yesterday with some people ( an informal gathering that included a few locals, a Filippina, some haoles--just friends) and we talked about this. One of my local friends was initially very unsympathetic to the latecomer/workers, until he heard that one of the charities was PAWS. And then he was offended that money went to that organization instead of the garment workers!

I would not have included PAWS or Whispering Palms School, because the first is about protecting animals (not workers) and the second is a very expensive, exclusive private school that no contract worker (and most of us ordinary workers) could not afford. I would not have included Saipan Swim Club as that seems very far afield from the real problems intended to be addressed by the settlement.

ARC donated tens of thousands of dollars in goods and services directly to garment workers in the past in at least 2 major fires and are helpful in most disasters. Karidat had the best avenue for direct assistance for worker grievances for years. MLSC offers free legal services without discrimination (although we did not handle worker grievances directly after about 1990, but handled other general civil legal work like divorces and debt cases, etc.). NMPASI, like MLSC, offers advocacy without discrimination--in their case related to disabilities (and some workers might fall into this category, or have children who do). SSHS is a public school with students who are children of garment workers at it.

Humanities Council has programs at least open to the public, has sponsored debates and discussions of importance and interest, even to the worker community (although now we're getting further afield from direct services to workers).

The Family Wellness program fights diabetes and generally works to get out information and help related to health issues. I don't know anything more about them and don't know whether they have helped or do help foreign workers. I hope so.

Center for Living Independently and St. Paul's Episcopal Church-I don't know enough about them.

So I understand everyone feeling disgruntled, even cheated, or as my friend said-offended.

The Law is an Ass.

Unfortunately, it's also the closest to "justice" we've got for now.

Anonymous said...

I'm very happy for PAWS. This island has more inhabitants than just people. It's nice to see that PAWS will get a much-deserved financial boost as a reward for its members' selfless contribution to the welfare of animals.

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Anonymous said...

I would not have given the left over cash to any charity. I would have given the money to the remaining garment workers. Hell, some are still owed money from working in the factories. But schools, Paws, a swim club? Just shows that these people have a deep disrespect for the OCWs. Let people swim, children frolic and pets wag their tails while the former garment workers starve. Nice. Another, "welcome to Saipan" slap in the face reality check for the OCWs.

And who is this lawyer that the judge says was available? Is he talking about Bellas? Bellas seems hostile to the garment workers and ignorant of their needs.

Anonymous said...

COME ON! The Northern Marianas Council for Humantities, the Marianas Judiciary Hysterical Society, a church? Will these people feed or help the hungry workers?

Environmentalist said...

I am appalled that people think the human species should have priority over all the other species that inhabit this planet.

Just because the Environmentalist cause is the beneficiary of well-heeled groups like Angelo Villagomez's Pew Foundation does not mean that our fellow creatures are any less important.

St. Francis, pray for us!

Anonymous said...

Herr Bellas is using the "Nuremberg Defense" to justify his actions. "Befehl ist Befehl".
Boy, did he ever make a lot of money off that fund by "just doing his job".
That $625,000 could have provided emergency air fares to return 600 workers that have no way to return back to their homelands.

Anonymous said...

Why not give it all to the Ombudsman or to Karidat? Who died and made this Board Santa Claus? What has Whispering Palms School done for workers' cause? A bunch of elitists on Navy Hill leasing government land cheap get more money for whose kids? So they can camp out on Managaha and take exotic trips with their friends across the way at Montessori? What about those workers who really need the money? Not right. Not fair. Not deserving.

Anonymous said...

Too bad there wasn't an attorney to step up for the workers months ago when they may have had a chance on influencing the decision. This decision is crap.

Captain said...

This is more advertisement for the NMI reinforcing the lack of mentality and commonsense. This Govt. can eliminate the MVA at this point in time as because of the Gov. there is a "spotlight" on the CNMI, again.

More of this incomprehensible thinking and lack of compassion and human rights will keep this place in focus for more time to come.
It is about time for another documentary on this place.
"Regression" is about the only claim to fame NMI has at this point.
What a shame, it will be interesting to check on exit records later on from immigration and see how many families have left this year.(at least the Feds keep records)

Anonymous said...

whispering palms? are you f#cking kidding me!

Anonymous said...

"Whispering Palm".
This whole fiasco reminded me of my friend used to say, "whisper is louder than shout", especially when it is done on an influential waxy ear.

Anonymous said...

Whispering Palms has the Tan's connections and these attorney's kids neh!